Recently one of my friends obtained a long sought-for job in her field. Much prayer had gone into finding this job, even as résumés and job applications were placed with many companies off and on over a period of two years. Upon gaining this position, we rejoiced greatly, while also recognizing that she had many other needs related to school expenses and her ability to work part-time only prior to this advancement.
On the basis of God’s powerful answering of prayer in the provision of this new job, I encouraged her to pray for miracles needed to secure her other needs. Her reply to me was shocking: “I do not feel worthy enough to go to God and ask him for these things. My life was so bad before I met him, and we are sinners even once we are saved. I just do not feel that I can ask for these things.”
At the Same Time Saint and Sinner
Upon hearing these words, I dropped the conversation, for I was at a loss for words. Before this encounter, I had not heard someone speak of his assessment of his worth before God in this manner. It gave me reason to pause and ponder: “Do my prayers reflect that I am thinking too highly of myself before the Lord? Should I think less of myself?”
Certainly this young disciple of Christ has landed in the field of Luther’s famous dictum, simul iustus et peccator – “At the same time righteous and a sinner." We are yet struggling to overcome sin as we walk in the power of Christ (i.e., Rom. 6:11). Moreover, we do not bring any merit to the table before God that we should demand special treatment from him: “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Lk. 17:10). Yet something inside was telling me that my friend’s self-evaluation was skewed—not quite agreeing with all that Scripture says about our standing before God.
Worth as a Measurement
The idea of being unworthy before God never is meant to make us feel worthless. Unworthiness comes from worth measuring our practices as sinful saints against the perfect righteousness and holiness of God; it is an objective measure with God as the standard. We have nothing that we can bring to him that will make God say, “Wow, what you are offering to me is so great, it will increase my value!” Neither do we have within ourselves anything by which we could say, “God, I am so good before you that I deserve your blessings.” God’s beauty is so far beyond us that he has no competition in worth, no crack needing mending by a sinner.
Worthlessness, in contrast, comes from measuring one’s position as a sinful saint against many other standards that one deems of greater intrinsic value than one evaluation of oneself; in the case of my friend, the standard is God. It is to say, “In comparison to that, I have no worth at all.” So my friend, feeling of no worth, would not approach God to ask for anything.
Jacob, however, saw himself as unworthy, but still asked help of God boldly:
I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children, (Gen. 32:10-11).
Jacob’s estimation of himself as one who practiced trickery his entire life gave him a proper view of himself. Yet he did not see this as making him without ability to come before God.
Approaching Through Christ
In contrast to my friend, Hebrews tells us that Christ sympathizes with our feelings, including feelings related to our own worth:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:15-16)
As I told my friend, feeling unworthy puts us in a position to go to God as one needy and not arrogant, because we approach on the basis of the worthiness of the Son of God, and not on the basis of our own worth. My friend is now enjoying asking God for any and all things as one unworthy yet at the same time resting in Christ.